The winter is over. The Covid night not yet. The WAGNER & HEAVY METAL Spring Weblog steps into the light with a visit to Venice and meets up with a creature of the night.
Culture, crime, music & horror with Philip Gwynne Jones and Richard Wagner plus Dracula in Nürnberg.
With the arrival of spring, the sun feels like a reminder of that inclination that can surface so strongly in winter. The inclination, that animalistic need, to escape the chilly gray of winter. Twenty-twenty, the year where everything came to a standstill, ended with a flight to Venice. A relocation to the city of the doges, magnet for artists, writers and composers. A relocation of the body to refresh the mind. The city, an open-air museum with its museums closed, with only a fraction of the number of tourists who normally roam there, became a setting for walks where Richard Wagner and Gustav von Aschenbach had left their real-life and fictional footsteps before they, for real and fictional, passed away there. The poetic potential of going to Venice at the time of a pandemic, city of the plague (quarantine) and cholera (Thomas Mann's Tod in Venedig), was not lost on us. Our stay became a sojourn in the city of gondolas and Acqua Alta (high water) where you felt the force of cultural heavyweights pulling at you without the need to draw that inexorable, ultimate conclusion. After more than a month we went home, without dying.
She raised her eyebrows, but didn't say a word.
‘Hawkwind,’ I said.
“Assault and Battery". It's from Warrior on the Edge of Time.
‘Oh.’ She closed her eyes. ‘Were you single for a long time, Nathan?’
(Venetian Gothic, Philip Gwynne Jones)
‘And leave something of the happiness you bring,’ I whispered to Federica.
‘What's that?’ she asked.
‘It's from Dracula.’
(The Venetian Masquerade, Philip Gwynne Jones)
Guy Maddin, Canadian cult director (The Forbidden Room was one of the best cinematic experiences of recent years), ventured in 2002 with a film adaptation of a ballet of the Dracula story (Royal Winnipeg Ballet's interpretation of Bram Stoker's book) and came a long way when he fused silent-film techniques, avant-garde imagery and music by Gustav Mahler into a 21st century theater of Gothic Grand Guignol. The vampire in Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary is of Asian origin, and in that guise he carries with him not only the cross of the vampire but also the cross of the foreigner. In this Dracula adaptation, the deeply human characteristics in a being from another, inhuman dimension, are embedded in a current social and societal framework. This widens the image depicted of the chief vampire; he is more than just evil. Guy Maddin provides his Dracula with atmospheric images (he has that in common with other Dracula films) and relies on the power of suggestion with the abstraction of a ballet choreography. It doesn't get as good as the book (obviously) but the imagination of the book finds a worthy counterpart in Maddin's imaginings.
Cosima's diaries - 22 Nov 1870)
Both Meistersinger and Dracula present us with the woman as an object of desire and as being a savior.
If Beckmesser is Dracula then Hans Sachs is the most appropriate person to be Van Helsing. in Bram Stoker's book, Van Helsing is a man who carries along his own mania. He is aware of the contradiction that only superstition and delusion can point the way back to the normal world. As a fighter of creatures that belong only in legends, he engages in his own kind of Wahn, Wahn, überall Wahn. But to confine ourselves to the Beckmesser-Sachs tandem as a vampire and its hunter would ignore the fact that the character of the vampire, in all its multicolored greyness, has gained in substance throughout time. Why not give it a twist?
The man who talks those around him into feeling guilty so that he, without having to give anything in return, can lean on what they give him; materially and spiritually. The ambiguous feelings of Hans Sachs towards Eva, did he ever seriously consider wanting her for himself? Many people take more than they give and true motives can be hidden behind allegedly noble intentions. Dracula lurks in the wings. It brings us to Hans Sachs as a candidate for chief vampire. What if his self-styled chastity toward Eva, his Schopenhauerian negation of the Will, is merely a cover with which he hides his real, true nature?
Beheim lived in a time of Papist emperors, Protestant secessions, Turkish invasions, and pagan rulers in the east. One of those rulers was Vlad Tepes, one of the inspirations for Stoker's Dracula. In 1463, Michael Beheim wrote a poem (Gedicht über den Woiwoden Wlad II. Drakul), a master song, or at least a prototype of a master song about Dracul, Vlad Tepes III, a sadistic ruler who took pleasure in impaling his enemies, women and children not excepted. In order to properly enjoy the macabre scenes that resulted, Vlad occasionally enjoyed a meal next to his impaled victims. Mainly because of a sloppy translation of the poem it was that Beheim's poem about Tepes and his barbaric savagery gave the suggestion that Vlad, like his fictional afterbirth at the end of the 19th century, drank the blood of his enemies (giving Stoker the inspiration for a bloodsucking Dracula) but that is most likely nonsense (Stoker most probably wasn't even aware of Beheim's poem when writing Dracula). Not that there wouldn't be plenty of horror left without that proto-vampire bloodsucking. Washing your hands in the blood of impaled people while having dinner scores high enough on the ladder of psychotic behavior to make it into a legend. Beheim based his poem in part on the testimony of a Franciscan monk, Brother Jacob, who had survived Vlad's atrocities. The horror of which the poem reports was an illustration of the cruelty of the godless Vlad, who, in contrast to the true faith of the Catholic rulers of the day, added an exalted lustre to noble Christian morals.
Er waz sein lust und gab im mut
wann er sach swenden menschen plut;
wenn er dy gwonhait hete,
Das er sein hend darjnnen zwug,
wann man im zu den tische trug
wann er sein malzeit tete.
It was his pleasure and gave him courage
To see human blood flow
And it was his custom
To wash his hands in it
As it was brought to the table
While he was taking his meal.